My Lords, when I saw the title of the report that we are debating, which has been so excellently introduced by my noble friend Lord Boswell, I wondered whether our esteemed EU Select Committee was pulling our collective leg. Then I saw the date of the report—March last year—and realised that it was addressed to a different Government in a different Parliament and, shamefully, not debated when it should have been ahead of our leaving the EU this January.
The negotiations on our new partnership—I use the word to which we committed ourselves in the political declaration, not the Government’s reductive terminology of a free trade agreement—have begun, but so far they seem to be more a dialogue of the deaf than a prelude to a partnership. The Government seem to be applying social distancing to that political declaration, which provided an agreed framework.
Of the bones of contention so far identified, that of the level playing field is, in a way, bizarre, because we agreed in the political declaration to the following wording:
“Given the Union and the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.”
Do the Government recognise that statement as one to which we subscribed?
Then, there is the Government’s determination to avoid an overall agreement out of a desire, apparently, to guard against the withdrawal of concessions in a different sector from the one in dispute. I fear that is futile and doomed to failure. Why? Because under the Swiss deal the EU has done exactly that, when it found that the Swiss were moving away from free movement and the EU withdrew access to Erasmus and research co-operation.
Thirdly, there is the implementation of the Irish protocol to the withdrawal agreement. Does anyone believe that checks and controls can be avoided? Obviously, there will be light ones, but none at all?
I fear that the verdict has to be that we are winning few friends and influencing few people. Why do we not just exempt the rest of the EU from the possible quarantine arrangements if they come here by aeroplane?